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Europe

Germany and Greece: A couple in need of counseling

Germans and Greeks have been on a verbal warpath for months now. It's been highly entertaining, yet the political damage is great. The dispute is multifaceted and but comes across as a conflict of generations.

They're just plain annoyed in Brussels, reports an EU insider. Greece's financial management is dubious, full of technical errors, and communication is simply disastrous. What's promised at the negotiation table will have already been forgotten in the first public interview, criticizes the larger EU family.

On the other hand, Greeks feel like Europe is patronizing and humiliating them. Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has regularly been making headlines with his extensive criticism of the EU's debt reduction plan for Greece. He calls it "fiscal waterboarding" and claims it is by no means a rescue plan for Greece, sources say in Brussels.

War of words and symbols

The relationship between Berlin and Athens, in particular, has hit rock bottom. To Vima, the traditional Sunday paper from Athens, is already speaking of "the battle of Berlin." And Panos Kamenos, Greece's defense minister and representative of the right-wing populist Anel party, is accusing German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble of using psychological warfare to poison relations between the two countries.

Symbolbild Griechenland Deutschland Varoufakis Schäuble

Schäuble (l.) and Varoufakis at a Brussels crisis meeting

Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, the head of the Germany's Social Democrats, not prone to over-interpreting words, is now standing up for Schäuble, his colleague in the German cabinet. Gabriel told Bild, Germany's largest tabloid, that he's had enough.

Gabriel no longer has any sympathy for the Greek politicians' "constant verbal attacks on German Finance Minister Schäuble." And now it's gone as far as giving him the finger.

And that finger has been on the minds of German TV audiences since Sunday night, when Varoufakis was shown in a video filmed when he was giving a speech in Zagreb in 2013. An economics professor at the time, he was lecturing about the euro crisis. He recommended that his country to file for bankruptcy, yet remain in the eurozone at the same time and, " (…) thus give Germany the finger and say: you can solve the problem yourselves."

At this point in the video, that reprehensible middle finger is visible. Varoufakis has said the video is a fake. Be it real or fake, it has taken German-Greek relations to the edge of ruin.

Rock star Varoufakis versus Schäuble, the public servant

Yanis Varoufakis Griechenland

Varoufakis has done himself no favors in Brussels

The main opponents in this discord are the finance ministers of each country. Their public confrontation resembles a father-son conflict. On the one side, there's the young, athletic Greek with Marxist ideas and lifestyle magazine attitude. He is a theorist, a man of the academic world. His main opponent in the EU is almost the complete opposite.

Schäuble is in his fifth decade of Bundestag service and a seasoned politician familiar with give and take. Austerity is state reason; financial good deeds are alien to him. While Greece stands at the brink of bankruptcy, Germany's budget for 2014 is the first balanced one in decades.

Varoufakis likes to come across as a rock star when he pulls over in front of the Finance Ministry on his motorcycle with his open-necked shirt. Schäuble, on the other hand, is the traditional public servant with Protestant ethics. To add to it all, the euro and its stability are sacred to the Germans, because from Berlin's vantage point, the currency is seen as a political one.

Debt and debts - setting the past against the present

EU Griechenland Ministerpräsident Alexis Tsipras bei Jean-Claude Juncker in Brüssel

Greek President Alexis Tsipras met EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in an attempt to win concessions for Greece

The new - heated - dispute on the admissibility of Greek reparation claims is politically controversial. File number R 27320 - "Economic Management in Greece under German occupation" - is also a reason for bad blood, on top of the legal dispute.

The idea of making a clean break with the past is not only shameful to the Greeks but even German historians sympathize with the reparation claims seven decades after the war. Germans are wrongly accusing the Greeks of bringing up the subject in the midst of the debt issues. Already back in 1995, the German Foreign Ministry was told that Greece had not renounced claims for compensation and reparations.

EU Council President Donald Tusk has commented on how damaging the verbal confrontation between Athens and Berlin is to the EU as a whole. The Polish politician told the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung that this is an "idiotic scenario."

Tusk warned the EU about kicking debt-ridden Greece out of the eurozone. He said there have been too many misunderstandings, accidents and stupid phone calls in European history.

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